"You should see what a lovely, lovely world this'd beEveryone learns to live together"-- The Rascals "People Got To Be Free" (According to Wikipedia, afterreleasing this song in 1968, the Rascals refused to perform at concerts thatdidn't also feature an African American band.)Once upon a time, there was a town in Virginia with two high schools.One high school inFarmville was for black kids:"Moton High was a squat brick building nestled in a fork of Route 15.Alongside the school were temporary classrooms built to accommodate anoverflow of students. The structures were made of wood covered with heavy papercoated with tar. The students called them chicken coops. The tar papershacks were Barbara's problem. They didn't appear to be temporary."When it rained, the roofs leaked. Buckets collected the dripping water. Some students sat under umbrellas so the ink on their papers wouldn't run. The makeshift classrooms, like the regular classrooms, were heated bypotbellied wood stoves instead of furnaces. Students sitting near the stoveswere too hot. Students sitting farther away from the stoves shivered intheir coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. As a result, they frequently gotsick. Teachers had to stop their lessons to stoke the fire. Smoke ofteneddied into the room instead of going up the chimney, causing sneezing andwatery eyes."The other high school in Farmville was for white kids:"Farmville High...had modern heating, and industrial-arts shop, lockerrooms, an infirmary, a cafeteria, and a real auditorium complete with soundequipment."In 1951, when this story begins, Moton High School student Barbara RoseJohns persuaded all of her schoolmates to leave their classrooms and refuseto continue attending school under such conditions. At first, Barbara'svision was to exert sufficient pressure upon the white school board to compelthem to build a school for black students that was comparable to the whiteschool. (This is back in the day when America still labored under theseparate-but-equal dictate of the U.S. Supreme Court's idiotic 1896 Plessy v.Ferguson decision that had upheld state segregation laws.) But when theNAACP got involved, they insisted that this be part of the fight to endschool segregation. The black community of Farmville attended mass meetings andagreed with the NAACP.What was the white folks' reaction to all this? Duh. Could it be morepredictable? They burned a cross, of course! And they told the blackstudents that their parents would all lose their jobs. And they scolded theblacks for being impatient. And one of them white folks threatened Barbara'slife, so her parents sent her away to Montgomery Alabama to live with herpreacher uncle and finish high school there. (Her uncle was pastor of theDexter Avenue Baptist Church, a name that might ring a bell, given who heruncle's successor was.)But the case of the Moton High students against the school board wentforward in Barbara's absence and eventually became one of the cases that waspart of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Educationruling.You'd better believe that THAT decision really pissed off the white folksin Farmville. They remembered very well who started all this trouble, sothey burned down Barbara's parents' house. (Of course, nobody saw who didit. Musta been an act of God...) And they closed all of the public schoolsin the county so they wouldn't have to integrate for years to come.Meanwhile, Barbara Rose Johns raised a family and then went back to schooland became a school librarian.This is a moving, true, well-documented story about America.
Recommended by Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA
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